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Competition of the most inclusive American cities: And the winners are…

(Blogmensgo, gay blog of 11 December 2019) At the 8th annual Municipal Equality Index (MEI) in the USA, 88 of the 506 cities rated scored the maximum of 100 points for their policies towards the LGBT population. For this ranking, under the supervision of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation in collaboration with the Equality Federation Institute, 88 American cities are doing (almost) everything to receive, respect and protect gays, bisexuals, lesbians and transgender people in their area through specific laws, regulations, grants, programs and initiatives. This shows a very integrative local policy in these 88 cities, even if the attitude of the inhabitants towards LGBT people may be much cooler and even if some of these cities are located in LGBT hostile states.

Perfect score for 88 cities

No less than 88 cities (17% of the candidates) scored the maximum of 100, while 14 cities (around 3%) did not score any points at all. The average score was 60 points (plus 2 points compared to 2018). A quarter of the cities scored less than 40 points, another quarter more than 89 points and half of the cities more than 60 points.

Leader San Francisco

San Francisco got the highest score, which is no big surprise © Rezaul Karim / Unsplash

Only 11 cities achieved the maximum score of 100 points in the 2012 competition, and by 2018 there were 78 cities with the highest score. The number of cities with the highest score thus increased by 10 within one year, although the criteria used in 2018 and 2019 remained strictly identical. In addition, 38 cities performed better in 2019 than in 2018.

Many different criteria

The 506 cities selected were evaluated against almost 100 criteria, ranging from the most general to the most demanding.

Some of these criteria are listed below, with the number of cities involved and the increase in 2019 compared to 2018 in brackets. Top-88 refers to the 88 cities that received 100 points.

  • 408 cities (+30) have formalized a policy of equal access to jobs, including in particular sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • 200 cities (+24), including all top 88, have established an LGBT Liaison Committee with the police, and 182 cities (+20), including 81 of the top 88, with high-level local authorities.
  • 182 cities (+19), including 79 of the top 88, require their suppliers and subcontractors not to discriminate in employment on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • 164 cities (+17), including 81 of the 88 most important cities, provide health services for their transgender personnel.
  • 118 cities, including 48 of the 88 most important, offer the same benefits to all spouses of their employees, whether they are same-sex or heterosexual couples.
  • 101 cities offer individual genderless restrooms according to the regulations of the city, district or state.
  • 59 cities (+13) received more than 85 points even though they are under the jurisdiction of a state that does not explicitly protect LGBT citizens. Hence the nickname All-Star Cities.
  • 28 cities (+11) prohibit conversion therapies, although their state does not prohibit them.

Dozens of other criteria were considered for the ranking. For example, providing statistics on LGBT-hostile crimes and offenses to the FBI (all top 88), a mayor who is open LGBTQ or who has appointed senior LGBT officials (66 of top 88), direct subsidies of services in support of people with HIV (63 of top 88), legislation more favorable to the non-discrimination of trans persons than that of the state concerned (36 of top 88), or direct subsidizing of services targeted at the trans community (36 of top 88).

In California, the friendliest communities are along the coast © Iris Papillon / Unsplash

San Francisco, Orlando, Phoenix and the others

No less than 13 Californian cities, including San Francisco of course, scored 100 points. This is not surprising, as California has a significant LGBT presence – especially in coastal areas – and is traditionally gay-friendly. Since we do not want to list all 88 cities with a perfect score here, here are just a few interesting features.

Between the rankings of 2018 and 2019, the score of two cities increased by more than 50 points. These are Overland Park (+54) in Kansas and Norman (+51) in Oklahoma.

Of the 59 All-Star cities that scored more than 85 points in quite homophobic states, some even scored 100 points. This is the case in Phoenix, Atlanta, Dallas, Cleveland, Detroit, Orlando and Philadelphia.

Of the 22 theoretically possible bonus points, the maximum number of bonus points for a city was 17. Six cities received those additional 17 points. Two Californian communities (Palm Springs and West Hollywood) received the required points for the maximum score of 100 points.

Strengths and weaknesses

As mentioned above, the placement of a city does not necessarily allow conclusions to be drawn about the behavior of its inhabitants and businesses, or about the country and state to which the municipality belongs. It is therefore possible to live in a top 88 city where private companies have the right to discriminate against LGBT individuals as long as they do not act under a public contract or authority. It is also possible to live in a city with a low MEI, although the population is rather friendly towards LGBT people.

Special features of the public administration

The administrative structure of the American cityscape distinguishes two types of cities: Cities for the largest and towns for the smaller cities, as well as smaller municipalities. The city of Washington, DC has the special status of a capital district and is not a normal city or municipality. It is therefore not part of the MEI selection, although gay marriage has been legalized there (for which no other city in the United States has the legal right). There is also a particularly high proportion of same-sex couples.

In other words, the MEI competition statistics are not representative of urban America as a whole and even less of America as a whole, since more than two thirds of the population are excluded.

A great initiative

In any case, we are very positive about the very detailed perspective offered by this ranking – to the benefit of both the LGBT issues and the cities with the highest ratings or most notable progress in this area. MEI 2019 thus offers cities such as Norman (Oklahoma), Anchorage (Alaska) or Richmond (Virginia) a great advertising opportunity.

However, this ranking is not so easy to apply or compare to other countries and cities. Firstly, because of the administrative-legal structuring of urban space in the United States. Secondly, through access to public data, which is much easier in the United States than in most European countries. Finally, according to the type of data that can be obtained: While in the United States information about the ethnicity and sexual orientation of citizens can be collected, in Europe any ethnic or sexual record is generally rejected.

Difficult to extrapolate

The difference between these two statistical options leads to as many advantages and disadvantages and vice versa. It is quite interesting to quantify and qualify the elements of an LGBT-friendly municipal policy, to publish their ranking and thus also to sharpen the profile of the participating cities. In other words: It is about visibility, not invisibility.

The weight of associations, legal criteria and lawyers is usually much lower in Europe than in the United States. As a result, many LGBT people on the Old Continent prefer to remain invisible or not openly advocate for more inclusion for fear of stigmatization or negative consequences. The increased respect for privacy in Western Europe makes such an LGBT ranking difficult, as does the less secure administrative and legal framework, both for the collection of data and for the processing and dissemination of results.

As imperfect and incomplete as it may seem, the MEI ranking simply exists, and it offers us very concrete elements for reflection and improvement. May such an initiative be well received outside the United States as well.

Methodology: The 2019 edition of the Municipal Equality Index ranked 506 American cities with a total population of more than 94 million people, or nearly one third of the national population. The score of each city that takes into account the municipal inclusion of the LGBT population is between 0 and 100. The criteria, which only apply to certain cities, also made it theoretically possible to receive a maximum of 22 bonus points in addition to the regular score, whereby the maximum value remained limited to 100.

The MEI ranking, which is conducted in all 50 states, includes the 50 capital cities, the five largest cities or municipalities in each state, the 200 largest cities in the country, 75 cities or municipalities with a high proportion of same-sex couples, and 98 cities selected by HRC and the local branches of the Equality Federation.

Frank-S / MensGo

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